Trillium Counselling Logo
CBT Therapy homework, journaling, why did my therapist give me homework

Why Did My CBT Therapist Assign Me Homework?

Many people have less-than-fond memories of homework in high school. So if you’ve just started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) with your therapist, you may be dismayed when they tell you that you’ll have homework to do between sessions. 

But there’s no reason to fear this homework. You’re not working toward a grade in therapy, but searching for answers to the problems that brought you here. CBT homework is a powerful way for you to take charge of that journey. Research supports the use of this tool, and it’s not as scary as it sounds. 

Homework will help you develop the skills you’re looking for, putting the power to create change in your hands. Here’s what you need to know about CBT homework, and what it can do for you. 

How CBT works

CBT is a different approach to therapy than you may be used to. Instead of an open-ended exploration of your feelings and memories, it focuses on a goal and ways to get there. It’s based on the idea that our emotions, thoughts, behaviours, and physical reactions are all intertwined, reacting to each other and the surrounding environment.

While emotions are notoriously difficult to influence directly (have you ever tried to just stop feeling a strong emotion?), thoughts and actions are something we can learn to direct. 

In CBT, patients learn to recognize the thoughts and actions that feed negative emotions. The goal is to replace these with more helpful thoughts and actions. Patients learn ways to moderate their physical reactions during stressful situations, enabling them to make choices that will serve their needs and goals. 

This approach has been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of problems, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and many more. And unlike traditional therapy, it’s a time-limited process that is usually completed within eight to 20 sessions. 

But there is a small catch–expect to do some homework. 

Why does CBT include homework?

Some experts prefer to use the term “Action Plan” to describe these between-session tasks. But regardless of what it’s called, you should expect to do some work on your own between appointments. As Psychology Today explains, it’s an integral part of the process.

An important basic tenet of CBT is that patients learn new skills that enable them to change their lives in profound ways. And just as with any new skill, practice is an important part of learning. You wouldn’t expect a single French lesson to make you a fluent French speaker, and the skills you learn in CBT also require an investment of your time and effort. 

In the case of CBT skills, practice is especially vital, so you can lay a foundational pattern of behaviour before it’s tested in high-emotion situations. A single 50-minute session a week isn’t enough to create the changes needed. For real progress, you’ll have to take ownership of the process and do what you can to internalize these new skills. 

But does it really help?

Of course, the reasoning behind having CBT homework between sessions sounds logical, but is there evidence to back the practice up? In fact, research not only supports the efficacy of CBT, but it also shows that homework is a powerful tool. 

One study published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy showed that CBT patients who engaged more with their homework showed greater improvement in their symptoms of depression. Importantly, this study didn’t just look at overall outcomes, but at individual results from one session to the next. Patients who did the work between appointments reliably felt better at the next session. 

To put it simply, homework is an important tool people can use to improve their lives. Instead of waiting for therapy to help you heal, it gives you the power to move toward your goals today. 

What does CBT homework look like?

What does CBT homework entail? If you’re remembering endless pages of algebra equations, don’t worry. This work is nothing like that kind of homework. 

Instead, it can take several forms. It could be practicing mindfulness exercises, such as relaxing breathing techniques. Learning how to calm your body’s response to stress can help you interrupt an anxiety spiral that feels impossible to escape.

If you can learn ways to soothe yourself in highly emotional situations, you enable yourself to make the decisions that will serve you best. Of course, if you want to be able to use these techniques when you need them, you must work to get comfortable with them. Once they become second nature, you will be able to call on them when you need them. 

Another type of homework is journaling. One of the goals of CBT is to recognize and challenge unhelpful thoughts. Journaling is an effective way to identify the thoughts that cause you distress. You may be asked to write in your journal when you’re feeling troubling emotions.

Typically, you’ll record what happened that triggered the emotions, what you’re feeling, the thoughts you have about the event, and how you reacted. This process is useful in helping patients to identify the thought patterns that negatively affect them. 

An important tool to help deal with these patterns is using worksheets. For example, the Coping Styles Formulation Worksheet is designed to help you consider your reactions. On it, you list difficult situations and how you cope with them. Then you can consider the strategies you typically use and decide if they’re effective. You can then come up with strategies that may serve you better. This can help you make decisions about how you want to react, rather than repeating the actions you’re familiar with.


CBT therapy ‘homework; or ‘action plan’ is an important component in the success of any CBT therapy treatment plan.  The work done by clients outside of sessions puts into practice and develops many of the skills you have learned to really demonstrate the change you are looking for. 

Many clients have found CBT to be extremely useful, and the homework that’s associated with it isn’t something to be afraid of. It’s a powerful tool that you can use to propel your progress toward the life you want. At Trillium Counselling, we would love to support you in this journey. If you’d like to explore CBT, please contact us for more information. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *